For a while I thought I would be immune to the “terrible twos” phase thinking that it is more of a North American phenomenon and because, from day one, I was very keen on raising my daughter with strict parenting rules.
I used to enjoy telling everyone from her pediatrician to our doorman what a great sleeper she was, sleeping through the night since she was 3 months old. I used to praise her eating habits (and secretly my nutritionist powers;)) and in particular how smoothly the breastfeeding period and later on solid food introduction went. I once called my mom at 6 in the morning overseas to tell her that her granddaughter had a raw eggplant with dinner!
It didn’t stop there, instead of feeling self-conscious in front of other mommies about the fact that my house isn’t at all kid friendly nor kid proof, I used to take great pride in complementing my daughter’s discipline around the house, in fact I was so happy to be raising a house-proof baby! In restaurants, the pouring compliments and applauses on how well my daughter behaved and how amazing it was that she was sharing my salmon with spinach with no shred of objection, used to make my day! Now you’re thinking a mother would always find a way to praise her child even if he/she was the worst kid on the block (an old Arabic proverb says: the monkey in the eyes of its mother is a gazelle). However, it wasn’t only me who thought that my girl was an angel. When her previous nanny had to leave us, she gave a great reference about my daughter to her successor, describing her as “rigolote et facile à vivre” (EN: Funny and easygoing).
Then suddenly came the day, right after her 2nd birthday. It started with a few NOs here and there. In the beginning, we found this super cute, even smart. We were caught-up in making sure that she was meeting all her developmental milestones and were very pleased to check off: better expression skills, better communication and ability to make choices. We thought a strong character might come in handy in the future if she wants to survive a wild environment (like New York City for instance). However, the NOs started getting more and MORE frequent, more and more DOMINANT, until I started noticing it became chronic. Hélas, my daughter was now only speaking in the negative tense! “NO I don’t want the potty”, “NO I don’t want to eat yogurt”, “NO I don’t want to clean up after playing”, “NO I don’t want to go in the stroller”, “NO I don’t want to say Merci/Bonjour”…So we were spending a big chunk of our days just dealing with her “no no no no no no no no no no” (which is one way for her to say No).
Picky? She defined that word! One day, she woke up from her nap with the weirdest request: She wanted clementine for snack…only BLUE clementine not orange! Food time was no more a piece of cake like the old days. I had to find a new trick every mealtime to distract her into finishing her plate. I became a master in all sorts of clown performances. A restaurant meal would transform into a battlefield with her throwing chopsticks on us. All the restaurants we frequent started having a specific table for us, engraved with my daughter’s name. It’s that table all the way in the back, next to the kitchen or the restroom, where the risk of stares (to us or the waiters), walkouts or all out catastrophe is at a minimum.
Nevertheless, after the initial panic, I reluctantly realized that she had just changed and my old tricks were not working anymore and so I had to update them. After coming to terms with the new challenge and gradually gathering more patience and energy to counter her increased stubbornness and vigor, I am starting gradually to regain control. The key was perseverance, adaptability, patience and creativity, illustrated by the following:
- As much as she said NO I was equally stubborn with my YES and eventually she started learning that she just can’t have it her way all the time (and often for a very good reason that I try explaining to her so she doesn’t feel that I am randomly putting her down).
- We changed our restaurant habits: in order to keep them enjoyable, they are now “short and sweet” (We sometimes pick our plates by checking the menu online before even stepping into the restaurant).
- Creativity in trying to grab her attention towards something or distract her away from something (e.g. “Oh look those yellow carrots are so magical!” as I try to make her forget about the blue clementines)
- There is also space for appropriate punishment (e.g. “No Play-Do time today because you misbehaved (aka screaming tantrum) in the grocery store”). With time, I can tell that she is starting to learn that actions have consequences and that she is starting to think about the repercussions of her own choices, which is actually a very important life lesson.
While there will be an initial surge in the crisis feel at home, your will suddenly start seeing signs of change and at that moment (the turning point) you will realize that it was all worth it (and you’ll secretly or not so secretly tear up). For me that happened when one day I became very furious when she threw her cheese plate on the floor, then she came to me and looked me in the eyes and said in her primitive sentence structure: “Plus de bêtises a maman, des bisous a maman!” (EN: “No more trouble for mommy, only kisses!”).